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Back-Clipping in Lead Climbing: Why and How to Avoid It

how to avoid back clipping

Learning to lead climb while sport climbing is a very involved process. As a leader, you have to navigate the rock, monitor the rope drag, and figure out the climbing sequence. On top of that, you also have to protect yourself by clipping your rope into quickdraws and ensuring you haven’t clipped your rope into a carabiner incorrectly.

One of the most common mistakes new leaders make is a back-clip.

Back-clipping is the act of clipping the climbing rope incorrectly into a quickdraw by placing it backward instead of forward.

It’s an important topic as it presents risks for your safety on the wall. In this article, I’ll talk about the subtleties of backclipping, how to avoid doing it, and how to fix it when you inevitably back-clip.

What’s Back-Clipping?

There are two ways to clip a quickdraw — the correct and incorrect. When correctly clipped, the climber’s side of the rope spills out the front of the carabiner, away from the climbing wall, and towards the climber.

On the other hand, when incorrectly clipped, the climber’s rope spills out of the back of the quickdraw, towards the climbing wall, and away from the climber.

In other words, when correctly clipped, the belayer’s strand of rope goes out of the back of the quickdraw, and the strand running to the climber comes out of the front of the quickdraw. When back clipped, it’s the opposite.

You want to avoid back clipping in all disciplines of roped climbing, whether it be trad or sport. However, back clipping is mostly talked about in the sport climbing context.

Back clip lead climbing error vs correct way

Why is Back-Clipping Dangerous?

Back clipping is considered incorrect because it increases the risk of the rope unclipping itself, resulting in a dangerous fall.

How is that possible?

Well, when taking a lead fall above a back-clipped carabiner, the climbing rope can lay against the carabiner gate as the leader falls away from the wall and past the quickdraw. When perfectly aligned, the speed of the fall and the weight of the climber can accidentally unclip the quickdraw.

YouTube video

How to Avoid Creating a Back-Clip

There are a couple of ways to avoid back clipping. The first strategy is preventative.

The best way to avoid back clipping is to prevent it from happening in the first place. You can do this by establishing good clipping techniques as a budding lead climber. And as always, the best place to learn a new climbing technique like clipping is on the ground.

The other way to avoid back clipping while lead climbing is to clip cleanly. Clipping cleanly involves pulling up rope from above your tie-in knot at your harness and going straight to clip the quickdraw without twisting or rotating.

Lastly, to avoid back-clipping and prevent climbing above a back-clipped draw, you need to double-check.

What to Double-Check

When clipping bolts, you need to double-check that you haven’t clipped the carabiner incorrectly. At first, double-checking may seem like a tiresome extra step. However, over time, you will improve your clipping techniques and double-checking, while lead climbing will become second nature.

Here’s what to double-check after clipping:

  1. Verify that the rope running out of the front of the quickdraw is your climbing strand and runs down to your tie-in knot.
  2. Check that the rope coming out of the back of the quickdraw is your belayer’s strand and runs down to their belay device.
  3. While checking to ensure you haven’t back-clipped, quickly double-check that you haven’t created a z-clip.

The Role of the Belayer

The lead climber is primarily responsible for ensuring they don’t back-clip and z-clip bolts.

However, it’s also the belayer’s role to monitor the leader’s clipping methods and help them avoid committing a dangerous mistake while they are on the sharp end, especially when the climber is new to lead climbing.

If the belayer notices that the leader is back-clipped (or z-clipped), they must notify the climber of the back-clipped carabiner before they can move on to the next clip so the leader can fix the problem.

lead climber on a difficult sport route approaching quickdraw

How to Fix Back-Clipping

When you are new to leading, back clipping is inevitable. Fortunately, the act of back clipping itself is not particularly dangerous, especially if you remain below the draw. It’s when you move above the back-clipped quickdraw that you expose yourself to a dangerous fall.

Here’s how to fix a back-clipped quickdraw:

  1. First, find the most secure stance possible where you can comfortably hang within one arm’s reach from the back-clipped carabiner.
  2. Next, unclip the rope from the bottom carabiner of quickdraw.
  3. Lastly, pull up enough rope from above your tie-in knot and clip it cleanly into the quickdraw so that the climber’s side of the rope is coming out of the front and the belayer’s side of the rope runs out of the back.
  4. Double-check that you have reclipped the draw the correct way before continuing to climb. If necessary, have your belayer double-check also.

Four Ways to Unclip an Incorrectly Clipped Carabiner

When you are on a lead climb and you back-clip a quickdraw, you might find that the act of unclipping the rope in step two from above is tricky. So, here are four different ways to unclip.

  1. Open the gate of the quickdraw and lift the quickdraw by the dogbone so the rope can fall out of the carabiner basket.
  2. Grab the climber’s side of the rope, pull up some slack, and pull/push it through the carabiner gate.
  3. Use two hands– one to hold the quickdraw’s dogbone and the other to unclip and reclip the dog bone.
  4. Use a personal anchor system to clip directly to the bolt hanger or the quickdraw itself and then fix the back clip.

Other Mistakes to Avoid on Lead

Back clipping while lead climbing is not the only thing you must avoid. There are some other common mistakes you want to prevent also.

Rope Behind the Leg

When you step in front of the rope or when the rope gets caught behind your leg, you become exposed to a dangerous fall potential.

When you take a fall with the rope behind your leg or caught on your heel, you can become flipped upside down as you fall. Flipping upside down exposes you to hitting the wall with your butt, back, or even worse, your head.


Another common mistake new climbers sometimes make is z-clipping. Z-clipping is when you pull up the rope from below the previous clip and then clip it into the next bolt.

After a z-clip, you may feel secure because you’ve got your rope into the highest clip. However, z-clipping provides a false sense of security. All you’ve done is introduce more slack into the system.

In the event of a fall, you won’t fall onto the highest clipped bolt. Instead, you’ll fall to the previous clip before your fall can be arrested.

Back Clipping: It’s Okay to Make the Mistake, but it’s not Okay to not Double-Check

Many climbers will back-clip at some point in their climbing career. Fortunately, learning the correct clipping technique is relatively straightforward. And fixing a back-clip while leading is also doable– it all just takes time and practice.

So before you cast off the ground tied into the sharp end of the rope, practice proper clipping techniques with your feet on the ground. Then, after you’ve mastered the correct way of clipping the rope, practice leading on an easy rock climb where you don’t have to worry about falling so you can focus all your attention on the act of clipping.

Then, as always, before climbing to the next bolt, double-check.

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